How to save on airfare

Booking your airline ticket might seem an easy task, but season travelers and travel experts have a different opinion. We'd give you several easy to follow tips and tricks that might help you save a lot of money on your next airline ticket.

What do we do when we buy an airline ticket? We go to our preferred website or websites to check what they have to offer based on certain criteria such as date and time of travel, booking class, preferred airline or alliance, etc. If we are willing to pay what these websites offer, you can stop reading this article here, and go about your life as usual.

However, if you think that base on your search the price you've got offered is quite steep, or that better options might still exist, and you're convinced that you can buy this flight cheaper with another seller, try out the following tips and tricks that we've carefully selected base on travel agencies feedback, industry known facts, and personal experience.

How many days in advance do I have to book my ticket?

Booking your airline ticket 47 days before the day of your planned trip may save you money, says the online search engine CheapAir based on over five million flights booked in 2015 on US domestic flights. The 47 days mark in advance have yielded the cheapest fare.

How the browsing history affects the price of an airplane ticket?

Clearing your browser cookies is what you might already know as important recommendation to perform before starting to search online. Refer to help and support information according to you browser (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, etc).

Note that if you refresh your browser often in hope of getting a better deal that action alone might make the flight more expensive. Here is how it all works.

Not only airline websites but all websites use cookies. According to pctools.com "Cookies are text files retained on computers by browsers containing various information in regards to a specific website visit. Another way to think of this is that a cookie is a message given to a web browser from a web server that is then sent back to the web server whenever the browser requests a page from it."

Min-Jee Hwang of Wiser, a firm specializing in analyses of pricing strategies points out that browser cookies by airline websites help track what you've searched. Hwang says: "It's called "dynamic pricing" and it means that prices change based on demand and conditions. Incognito windows (safe browsing) are a popular way of getting around dynamic pricing - says Hwang - but they only work sometimes. The best thing to do is to clear your search history and your cookies."

So clean your browsing cookies by cleaning your browser history. Don't forget to clean everything form the beginning of time and not just the last several days of history as some browsers would have it set by default. Then, close or restart your browser. That should do it.

When you visit websites that sell airfare, had you not cleaned your history, they'd know what you've been looking for and for how long. So the more you look for and the longer you look for, the more in need you appear to be, and thus, you might be quoted a higher price as you're more likely to buy what's available.

Does my location play a role in the ticket price?

Yes, it does! Similar to cookies, websites can detect and log your IP address which reveals your geographical location. Let's clarify: you can't search the Net or be online if you don't have assigned IP address. We are not talking here to not have an IP address.

"The Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numerical label assigned to each device (e.g., computer, printer) participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication. An IP address serves two principal functions: host or network interface identification and location addressing," according to Wikipedia.

Regional pricing, or the location where a ticket is purchased (also known as "point of sale") can in fact affect the price of airline ticket.

The international tickets may often be cheaper in regions or countries where living standards are not as high, according to Erica Ho of Map Happy, so booking a ticket from a location where you're not physically present or if you “fake” your location may significantly lower your price. The main point is to "persuade" the seller website that you’re actually purchasing the airline ticket from that other place.

According to Ho, hiding your real IP address may do the trick. The best way of doing this is by using a VPN service.

As this article has no intention to explain how the VPN service works, we advice to do your own research. If you're not familiar with this topic according to whatismyip.com "A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like WiFi Hotspots and the Internet. VPNs are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data." There are free and paid VP services."

So if you get assigned an IP address different then the country you reside via a VPN network, and you want to fly from California to some country in Eastern Europe, for example, buying the ticket from that foreign country may reduce your price significantly as opposed to buying it from California, if we hypothetically assume you're from California. But be aware: Ho states that this trick has worked for her 80% of the time as fares might be sold under certain resident restrictions and are not available or used by foreign nationals.

Also, you have to keep in mind that even if you "fake" your location under a VPN, some countries consider the use of VPN illegal all together. Furthermore, the use of your credit card to by the ticket will reveal your residence. In this case is best to use credit card that do not charge foreign transaction fees.

What are the best days of the week to travel?

The best days of the week to travel that might yield you a better airfare are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. As Fridays and Sundays are the most popular days to fly, who wants to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday when including the weekends can add extra days to your vacation? If you are willing to fly in the middle of the week you might be able to save money. An empty airplane seat is lost revenue so those unsold seats may drive airlines to offer lower fares to entice travelers to book during off-peak days.

What are the best hours to fly?

If you have an option to choose and if your travel plans allow you may choose the hours from 5 to 7 o'clock in the morning, and after 8 o'clock at night. A red-eye flight or a flight which is departing late at night and arriving early the next morning is generally sold cheaper.

Longer layovers

Based on our experience we've discovered that the longer the layover time between flights the lower the price may become. This is especially true for international flights.

Certainly, layover time more then 8 hours will sell significantly cheaper then flights with layover time between 2 to 5 hours. If you consider to go for the longer layover time flight in order to save some money, make sure that you can or you're allowed to spend the night at the airport, in case you don't want to book a hotel for the night.

Some airports provide sleeping lounges for free or sleeping pods for a fee, and some airports do not allow passengers at terminals after midnight or certain hours, whichever comes first, if no flights are scheduled to depart that terminal. Thus, you have to look for a hotel, and that very well may not be a saver ticket when you add the price for the hotel. Thus, you may consider paying a slightly higher price for your airfare an davoide the longer layover all together, if no other opition is available.

Fly different airlines or from different airports

Travelers who fly often know what if you buy two one-way tickets might cost more than a single round-trip ticket. However, that might not be always true. If you are willing to experiment, see if are're buying 2 separate one-way tickets would give you a better price. Furthermore, try alternative airports such as smaller, regional airports where taxes and fees are generally lower. But note that such airports attract low cost airlines and they are a different story. They generally will offer lower price on the first place if you book directly from their websites. Law cost airlines as a rule of thumb compared to full service airlines, may not offer necessarily better flying times, dates, or layover periods. Also, law coast airfare often doesn't cover reserved seating, price for checking a bags, etc.

The advantage of buying separate tickets will give you more flexibility in terms of arrival and departure times as well as departing or landing at different airports.

Of course, as a rule of thumb when buying airline tickets, see what price the airline website will offer and compare it to the price you've found from the non-airline websites.

The separate ticket option may be more suitable for domestic flights when changing planes gives you a lower price since direct flights are generally more expensive. However, remember that if you fly internationally and you have to change flights it is safer and smarter to travel with one single airline. In case of anything unexpected happens such as lost or delayed luggage or a missed flight due to unforeseen circumstances the airline has an obligation to deliver your bags and take you to your final destination, so you will be better off dealing with just one carrier then having to deal with several airlines which will often try to shift responsibility if inquiries arise.

Pay airfare with miles

Buying your airfare with travel miles will make your flight almost free as you'll be responsible to pay some small fees or taxes depending on the carrier or the seller.

If you have the necessary miles to purchase a domestic or international flights, you can opt-out paying with these miles. The number of necessary miles varies from airline to airline. See your miles account details.

The miles can be accumulated via a credit card spending program which offers travel miles, or accrued via loyalty airline program such as the United Airlines Mileage Plus or the German Lufthansa Miles & More program. Almost all major airlines have loyalty programs or some form of miles incentive.

As a rule of thumb, be aware that when using miles often restriction apply, especially if you want to fly on popular holidays or in-peak season. Moreover, you will not have much flexibility in terms of dates of travel. During certain periods your miles will simply not be available to redeem at all or you'll be offered high class tickets that will require you to spend more miles. Either way, when buying with miles you have to be flexible on your travel dates.

Here is how it works. We wanted to use 50 000 miles out of the German Lufthansa Miles & More program to fly from USA to Europe before Christmas with return on or before New Year's Eave. The airline offered no economy class tickets on the dates requested but business class only. Note the time of travel in this exampe is in-peak season. The business class tickets called for 105 000 miles to be used. Remember, we had only 50 000 miles available. As a result we couldn't use any miles to book this flight as the airline did not allow to pay 50 000 and rest to paid cash. So you really have to do your homework and research what your miles will give you on the dates you want to travel.

Use partial miles

Let's say you want to travel internationally and you have only 30 000 miles in your account. A good example would be to fly from the West coast city of San Francisco, California to Frankfurt, Germany. Often such flight may require you to change planes in one of the East coast hubs of Chicago, New York, or Washington DC. For the US domestic flight you need to spend between 25 000 to 30 000 miles round trip depending on the airline program. What you can do is to use your miles to book your round trip flight from San Francisco to Washington, DC with miles and book the German bound flight paid cash (or by credit card). So basically, you'll be paying only for the round trip flight from Washington D.C. to Frankfurt.

But note, you have to make really careful planing and search for those 2 separate flights almost simultaneously online in order to match your arrival time in Washington with the departure time of the transcontinental flight. The same is true for your return flight. Remember that these will be 2 separate tickets. We have done it and it works.

These tips and tricks are some of our first hand experience or what travel agencies and industry experts have shared. We will continue to look for better ways to save on airfare and make sure we share them with you.